Elon Musk is building an Iron Man-like lab to create spacecraft with his bare hands

September 2, 2017 – 10:52 am

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Elon Musk and his fellow engineers at SpaceX have combined the Leap Motion gesture-sensing controller, the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, and a metal-printing 3D printer to create “the future of design.” The video, published by SpaceX (embedded below) and starring Musk, shows what it might be like if engineers could create and manipulate designs with just their hands, like Tony Stark in Iron Man.

Leap Motion, as you’re probably aware, is a candy bar-sized USB peripheral that essentially acts like a high-res version of Kinect. You place Leap on your table, pointing up, and it translates your real-world finger movements and hand gestures into virtual actions. On a basic level, you might use Leap to play Fruit Ninja by furiously swiping your hand through the air. Its capabilities truly shine when used to explore or manipulate a 3D space, though, such as a 3D map of the world.

Oculus Rift is a Kickstarted stereo (3D) virtual reality headset. It displays a separate image in front of either eye, creating the illusion of 3D space. There are sensors in the headset that track your head movements, allowing you to look around the virtual 3D space by moving your head. Oculus Rift has obvious uses in the realm of immersive gaming, but again it can also be used to explore non-game 3D spaces — such as the CAD visualization of a rocket engine.

Trumpf laser welding machine

In the video, Musk walks us through some custom software that lets him manipulate a Merlin rocket engine using the Leap. SpaceX trialed a few different iterations, with the CAD software outputting to a normal monitor, to a 3D projector (with 3D glasses), to a semi-transparent glass screen (a la Iron Man), and also to an Oculus Rift headset. When the CAD process is done, Musk then sends the object to 3D printer that uses selective laser melting (SLM) to build the object out of titanium. In a tweet last month, Musk told Iron Man director Jon Favreau that SpaceX intentionally set out to mimic the interface that Tony Stark uses to modify his powered exoskeleton. (See: Will we ever have Iron Man exoskeletons?)

According to Musk, this Iron Man-like approach allows you to “really apply your intuition and take something from your mind to a physical object with far greater ease than we currently do.” Judging by the video, I’d say there’s a long, long way to go before spacecraft parts are actually designed by engineers with Leap Motion and Oculus Rift. All we see in the video is moving around and through a 3D object — there’s no placing or creating of new parts, and no manipulation of existing parts either. CAD programs are some of the most advanced pieces of software that money can buy, and almost exclusively they’re controlled via very mature mouse-based input methods.

Source: www.extremetech.com

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